In the Year 2000: Jeff Greenfield and the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade



W. 70th St. & Central Park West, NY, NY 10023

Neighborhood: Upper West Side

On Election Night two weeks ago, I was laying on my couch whiling away the hours, aiming to stay awake until I could officially note that my homestate was instrumental in saving the State of the Union. (I made it to 3 a.m., but it wasn’t Rocky Mountain solid until the next afternoon anyway. Give ‘em hell, Senator Seven-Digits!) I selected CNN as my station of choice, primarily because their coverage started at 8 PM and the graphics were easy to follow. I also have great respect for bearded men named Wolf, and what’s more self-satisfyingly entertaining than watching human Muppet James Carville gloat?

As time passed and the Democrats racked up House seats, I couldn’t shake a major feeling of déjà vu. Something seemed incredibly familiar, and not just because my brother Daniel and I did yeoman’s work on a case of Red Stripe in 2000 waiting until dawn for a resolution. No, this déjà vu was different, like I was hearing the voice from a long ago conversation…

Two nights later (after Montana officially decided to shine the spotlight of freedom upon Jon Tester) I was watching the Colbert Report. The guest that night? None other than CNN political analyst Jeff Greenfield, who informed Senor Colbert that, “Barney Frank is not a purple dinosaur.”

And then it hit me. Six years ago, on a crisp autumnal morning, I’d hashed out the still-undetermined-election-results with the folksy Greenfield.

And I was wearing a purple Carhartt with green bib and matching knit cap.

* * *

When my wife, Kim, got her initial job as a planner at Macy’s, she told me that one of the perks was that we would be marching in the Thanksgiving Day parade.

And we did, in 2000, as members of the Barney float brigade.

Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade Day goes like this: (1) Arise before sunup. (2) Drink coffee, but not too much coffee, because facilities are in short supply. (3) Wait in an hour-long line with to get costumed with many people who are seeing their life’s dream come to fruition. (4) Go outside on a below-freezing morning to wait by your balloon. (5) Mill around Central Park West for two-plus hours waiting for said balloon’s moment in the sun. (6) Listen to instructions from very serious “pilots” and “captains” on the responsibilities and duties of the 50+ “handlers.” (7) Hold Barney tightly. (8) Start walking towards Herald Square. (9) Ignore the 2.5 million people lined up along the parade route. They don’t care about you; they came to see the dinosaur.

And if you’re lucky, you might just get to meet CNN political analyst Jeff Greenfield!

As it happens, Kim was as excited as the proverbial kid headed to Santaland, so we showed up wayyyyyyy tooooo earrrrlllyyyyy (note the chattering teeth effect.) Veterans in the Barney brigade informed us that there was just no reason to get there before 7:30, by which time we were already searching for a bagel store open on Thanksgiving morning. Sound advice, I suppose.

But the early bird gets the inside Beltway poop.

And by Turkey Day, it was getting stinky. The country was knee-deep in the Floridian muck of hanging chads, butterfly ballots, the state Supreme Court and Katherine Harris when I spotted Mr. Greenfield, wandering in and around the balloons, checking out the impressive feats of helium-tastic engineering, and soaking in all the glory that is an inflatable Clifford the Bed Rig Dog. Not having anything to do for awhile — and temporarily forgetting I was outfitted like Prince’s mechanic – I approached him and ingratiated myself by mentioning his “fictionalized” book about what would happen if a rogue delegate turned a Presidential election into a constitutional quagmire.

“Hello, Mr. Greenfield. My name is Patrick Sauer and I’m a fan of The People’s Choice.”

“Thank you,” Greenfield said, obviously appreciating the reference.

“So, I’m surprised you aren’t down in Florida.”

“I flew in last night for the holiday,” he said.

“It’s a mess down there, but it must be exciting,” I said, “Don’t you love being in the middle of such an important political event?”

“You know what I love,” Greenfield said with a pause. “This parade. All of these amazing floats, Thanksgiving…I just love this.”

“Oh…so, umm, what’s going to happen down in Florida? Is it Gore or Bush?”

“You tell me.”

“I have no idea.”

“Neither do I…neither do I.”

Greenfield and I made a bit more small talk, shook hands and he headed off to wherever news anchors go for the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade (my guess would be to a front-row seat for the performance of the Who Let the Dogs Out? by the then scorching-hot Baha Men).

I drank some more coffee and waited for showtime.

* * *

As for the rest of the parade, there isn’t much to tell. The main captain called us all together and asked for two volunteers to lead our balloon and carry the banner.

Kim bolted.

I grabbed hold of one of the long ropes in Barney’s rear and quickly realized that the captains weren’t just being paranoid after the infamous 1997 Cat in the Hat mishap left a women in a coma.

Controlling those suckers is a lot of work.

Enjoying the experience becomes somewhat impossible when every cross-street brings a gust of cold wind powerful enough to send us all floating into the Hudson River. Once we started moving, I hung on and hoped that no unlucky spectator would end up in Mount Sinai due to a bizarre anthropomorphic Tyrannosaurs Rex accident.

As we made our way to Macy’s, I did learn one startling fact. Barney may love you, but it ain’t reciprocated. Except for the toddlers in the crowd, Barney received the same treatment as Red Sox fans at Yankee Stadium. In the beginning, I knew I could’ve scored a better balloon (Mickey Mouse, Bullwinkle), but it could have been a lot worse (the Honey Nut Cheerios Bee or egads, Ask Jeeves.) By the time we reached Columbus Circle, I had started to take the Barney brigade-bashing personally. Nobody, and I mean nobody, gets to boo my dinosaur. I went so far as to put one eight-year-old showoff in his place.

“You suck, Barney!” he screamed to the delight of his third-grade cohorts.

I looked him straight in the eye, and with a great big hug and a kiss from me to you, said:

“You’ll get no pumpkin pie and like it!”

His mother let out a delirious Long Island cackle and smacked her son in the back of the head.

And with that, we were one big happy family. You, me, Barney, Katie Couric, Matt Lauer, Al Roker, millions of spectators and television viewers and of course, random CNN political analysts.

* * *

This year, I’m thankful that the election results turned out differently than 2000 (one more time for the great state of Montana), that I don’t have to wake up to watch the parade, let alone battle the blustery canyons and that I will never again wear a purple Carhartt as long as I live.

But from this day forward, Election night and Turkey Day morning will always remind me of Barney and his friends.

Friends like CNN’s Jeff Greenfield.

Happy Thanksgiving.

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